Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s retirement wasn’t as planned or smooth as his company tried to portray it, according to anonymous sources speaking to AllThingsD’s Kara Swisher.
The newspaper indicates that Ballmer wished to stay on far longer, but that the company’s nine-member board (which includes Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates) wanted to avoid a potential proxy battle launched by activist investor ValueAct, which owns a significant number of stock shares and reportedly doesn’t like Ballmer. “If ValueAct got on the board, I think Ballmer finally realized that meant it was going to be the hard way from then on out until he left,” an anonymous source close to Microsoft’s board told Swisher, “and he did not want that for a company he clearly loves and has been his life.”
Ballmer denied pressure from ValueAct in an interview with The Seattle Times, something that Swisher’s sources dismissed as “bluster.”
Microsoft’s issues aren’t limited to possible action by an activist investor: the company’s revenues are anemic, Windows 8 isn’t selling at expected levels, and its consumer-centric initiatives—most notably Windows Phone and the Surface tablet portfolio—have largely failed to make substantial inroads against Apple and Google. In the enterprise realm, it faces significant competition from tech giants such as IBM and Oracle. Analysts and pundits have laid blame on Ballmer for many of Microsoft’s missteps over the years, and will probably continue to do so long after he shuffles off to his life’s next act.
Earlier this summer, Ballmer announced that Microsoft would undergo a massive reorganization, with the goal of having the company’s massive divisions interoperate with greater efficiency. “Improving our performance has three big dimensions: focusing the whole company on a single strategy, improving our capability in all disciplines and engineering/technology areas, and working together with more collaboration and agility around our common goals,” Ballmer wrote in a buzzword-laden memo detailing the reorganization, posted on Microsoft’s Website.
The popular assumption was that Ballmer would stay through that reorganization; certainly he’d given no indication of retiring in the near future. So much of the tech world was shocked last week when he announced his departure within the next 12 months.
“There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time,” Ballmer wrote in a curt statement offered by Microsoft. “My original thoughts on timing would have had my retirement happen in the middle of our company’s transformation to a devices and services company. We need a CEO who will be here longer term for this new direction.”
At the time, speculation ran rampant that Ballmer was pushed from his lofty perch. This AllThingsD report will only fuel that theory.